Blue Dons win a thriller, claim OVAC three-peat
TORONTO — Madonna baseball coach Jeff Baire said games like Saturday’s OVAC title thriller are why he wanted to coach again.
It is easy to see why.
His Blue Dons, who came into the OVAC tournament as the No. 3 seed, entered the seventh inning down a run, rallied to tie the game, then won their third-straight OVAC Class 1A championship in thrilling fashion in the eighth inning, 6-5, to upset top-seeded Conotton Valley at the Knights Baseball Complex.
“It’s really nice to win an OVAC title, especially the way it happened,” Baire said. “We gave up a lead and had to fight back and find a way to win. Coming back to win it, it’s incredible. It’s what I came back for, to get out there and experience stuff like this with the guys. It means a lot.
“Cameron seemed to have our number, but we were able to go down there and win to get ourselves into the championship game by getting what was turning into a monkey on our back off was a big thing, then winning (Saturday) makes the third in row for Madonna in baseball.
“It’s been a goal for these guys since the beginning of the year to win OVACs, so it’s a box we’re able to check off.”
With the bases loaded in the top of the eighth inning, Chase Littleton put a ball in play, the ball was bobbled, and he hustled down the line to put the pressure on, and the Rockets committed an error.
With all the attention on the play at first, Lucky Pulice — who started the eighth inning rally with a one-out double — and Tyler Starvaggi came around to score, giving the Blue Dons a 6-4 lead.
“That wound up being huge (to get the second runner across),” Baire said. “It was (Littleton) rushing down the line that made the play close and made them have to rush and made it a bang-bang play.
“That absolutely shows the importance of running it out no matter what. We have had a couple of those situations this year where we have really stressed that. Base running is a big thing we put a lot of work into.
“Being fast on the bases and putting pressure on the other team has been a big thing for us.”
Conotton Valley got one back in the bottom half, but Matt Amaismeier shut the door to preserve the win. He pitched the final three innings to earn the win, striking out one and walking one while allowing one hit.
The run — the only one he allowed — was also unearned.
After Madonna (5-7) went up 2-0 in the top of the first inning, the Rockets plated one in the fourth, then brought home three in the bottom of the the fifth after Madonna had added one to its lead in the top half, to make it a 4-3 Rockets lead.
That remained the score until the top of the seventh.
With two men on, Mason Thompson drove in a run with an RBI fielders choice to even the score, setting up the dramatic trip to extras.
“It would have been easy for our guys to get frustrated, it would have been easy for them to get frustrated on several occasions this season,” Baire said. “We’ve hit the ball hard all year, but right at people. We’re a resilient group and that paid off (Saturday).”
In addition to Littleton and Thompson’s heroics, Dom Brncic, Pulice and Starvaggi each finished with an RBI. Thompson also had a triple in the game.
On the mound, Starvaggi got the start and went the first five innings before giving way to Amaismeier for a no-decision. He fanned six and walked six, allowing four runs, two earned, on two hits.
“We found a way to win (Saturday), we didn’t find a way to lose,” Baire said. “I’m hoping that’s something we’re starting to turn the corner on.”
Though the sectional tournament is still a little ways off for West Virginia teams, the experience of battling back in a close OVAC tournament final is one Baire thinks will be a big benefit to his team once it gets there.
“It definitely helps us,” Baire said. “When you play someone like a Conotton Valley, who is not from our neck of the woods, it’s much like what we’re going to see if we’re fortunate enough to get out of the section.
“They were a scrappy team, and that’s also why I schedule the way I do playing bigger teams. It gives us a chance to be in close games where you have to fight just to be able to continue on. That’s typically what you find in the OVAC games, too. I think every game this weekend was a one or two-run game. It’s a great preparation tool (for the tournament).”
The Blue Dons are tentatively scheduled for a home-and-home with East Liverpool, traveling to face the Potters on Monday before hosting them Tuesday. Madonna also has a home doubleheader set for Saturday with Wheeling Central, though Baire is looking to pick up a game between to replace one that was canceled.
OVAC Class 1A Championship
Knights Baseball Complex
Madonna 6, Conotton Valley 5 (8 innings)
Madonna 2-0-0 0-1-0 1-2 — 6 6 3
Conotton Valley 0-0-0 1-3-0 0-1 — 5-3-0
MADONNA (5-7): Starvaggi (5IP, 4R, 2ER, 2H, 6K, 6BB), Amaismeier (WP, 3IP, 1R, 0ER, 1H, 1K, 1BB) and Brncic. Thompson S, T, RBI; Brncic RBI; Pulice D, RBI; Starvaggi S, RBI.
CONOTTON VALLEY: Galigher (LP, 7 2/3IP, 6R, 6ER, 6H, 2K, 3BB), Putnam (1/3IP, 0R, 0H, 0K, 0BB) and Lambert and Romero. Novak 2S; Burleson S, RBI; Myers RBI.